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Alternative futures for UK peatlands

Researchers from the Valuing Nature Programme's Peatland Tipping Points project have today published a report identifying four alternative futures for UK peatlands. The scenarios consider the effects of different post-Brexit policy trajectories on the UK's most important carbon store, and the water, biodiversity and other benefits these habitats bring to society. The work is based on published evidence from the scientific literature and consultation with representatives from government, land management, conservation and utilities. The team is now conducting detailed modelling and fieldwork to understand how each of these scenarios might play out in reality, considering how different drivers of change might interact to produce unpredictable outcomes, and looking for important tipping points that might lead to rapid and irreversible change or make it difficult to restore damaged peatlands.

To find out more, download the report or read the summary below.

The project: The Valuing Nature Programme’s Peatland Tipping Points project is investigating how changes in climate and how we manage land might lead to long lasting changes, or “tipping points”, in the benefits that peatlands provide to UK society. The aim is to identify signs of the potential for, and likelihood of, such changes and provide evidence about their likely economic and social impacts. This information will be used to develop options for policy and practice that can help prevent tipping points being reached and facilitate restoration and sustainable management of peatlands across the UK.

Our approach: Rapid reviews of published evidence are being conducted to characterise the dynamics of peatland ecosystem services in response to climate and land use change. In parallel with this, scenarios of the future socio-economic and biophysical dynamics of peatlands are being developed. These scenarios are based on the knowledge and experience of a wide range of peatland stakeholders, combined with insights from rapid reviews and the broader peer-reviewed literature. This report summarises these scenarios and explains how they were constructed.

The workshops: Stakeholders in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Northeast England and the Flow Country in North Scotland were invited to workshops to categorise the condition of peatland in their area and develop future land use scenarios. Detailed scenarios were developed by participants for each study area, and these were integrated with evidence from the literature.

The scenarios: four alternative futures are foreseen. These are:

  1. Maximise production

  2. Market collapse

  3. Public money for public benefits

  4. Sustaining agricultural communities

The first two scenarios focus on two very different outcomes of significantly reducing or removing payments to land managers after Brexit, making farming operations in peatlands depend on the market for their survival. The first of these scenarios explores a future in which markets are able to sustain farming in these environments and a lower regulatory burden makes more intensive management possible. The second scenario explores would might happen if markets are not able to sustain farming in these environments, leading to a significant reduction in the intensity of management and land abandonment.

The second two scenarios consider two alternative futures in which payments to land managers are maintained post-Brexit. The third scenario focuses on optimizing public benefits in return for reduced but continued public support, with payments linked to the delivery of public benefits such as climate mitigation and water quality. The fourth scenario adopts the same “public money for public benefits” policy as the previous scenario, but retains current funding levels, using this additional funding to protect and sustain rural communities through LEADER style projects, and focusing as much on the economic and social sustainability of rural communities as it does on making payments directly to land managers.

Next steps: Each of the four scenarios will be further researched based on published literature and new modeling work, further explored through empirical measurements in the North Pennines and/or Flow Country. They will be integrated with different climate scenarios, to explore how high or low predicted temperatures or rainfall might alter each of the four futures. Findings from this research will provide evidence for the likely outcomes associated with each scenario, for each study site, and will be upscaled as far as possible using evidence from earth observation data at regional and national scales.

More information: The audience of this report are stakeholders who participated in the workshop, who will be invited to a second workshop, and others with an interest in land management in these areas and or peatland restoration/management more generally. If you would like to discuss this work or input the research in any other way, please contact Dylan Young.


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